When I took office as president of the University of the District of Columbia in 1977, I was, in a very real sense, the institution's first and only full-time employee. For the most part, UDC existed only on paper--in legislation and in the planning documents that a diligent charter board of trustees had been sorting through for months.

It would be difficult to invent more disparate educational partners to the consolidation we were mandated to accomplish. There was the dignified D.C. Teachers College, with a tradition and heritage pre-dating the Civil War; Federal City College, a feisty four-year liberal arts institution born of the turmoil of the '60s; and an equally young two-year Washington Technical Institute, already known for its vibrant esprit de corps. But practical sense and public demand required that they learn to live together as one. Clearly, consolidation would succeed only if the loyalists of all three schools were persuaded to enlist in the common cause.

Of course, not everyone welcomed this opportunity to build a new university. It would be totally false to report that the process was without rancor and pain. The beginning months tested the human capacity for flexibility, compromise and good will. But on the whole, faculty, students and staff, as well as the board, responded magnificently.

During its first year, UDC operated three separate academic programs. The breakthrough in academic consolidation came in 1978, when we opened the fall semester with five colleges established, deans of the colleges selected and most top officers of the university chosen. The University College had been established as the primary support system for UDC's open-admission policy; the number of academic departments had been pared from nearly 90 to about 60; and the university's first class schedule had been published.

By the end of the second year of consolidation we counted dozens of major tasks that had been crossed off the "must do" list. For example, the faculty and staff undertook an exhaustive self-study effort that led to the reaffirmation of accreditation of UDC as a single institution. Subsequently, a university-wide committee assembled a five-year master plan, including a difficult but necessary reduction of some faculty.

Meanwhile, the university acquired an FM radio station and restored the historic Carnegie Library Building. All the while we were holding classes and planning commencements, developing and fielding athletic teams, forming a consolidated alumni association, producing plays, concerts and art exhibits, creating a marching band from scratch, conducting faculty research, closing the communications gap, and struggling to gain support for more facilities.

At the same time, we were constantly explaining to our friends in the District Building why a public university could never be operated like just another municipal agency of government. After four years of partnership with an enlightened city government, the university has achieved substantial autonomy in budget management and procurement. We now retain tuition revenue, which places the responsibility for students' costs where it belongs--squarely on the board of trustees. While fully accountable, we now have the quasi- independence that is essential to the operation and growth of a university.

Fall semester 1981 opened with about 70 percent of the university community physically consolidated, working and learning at the newly completed Van Ness campus. With students registering without a hitch in a new gymnasium and thronging the plaza between classes, and with the libraries jammed and lines in the bookstore, the university became a visible, believable entity.

UDC has rounded the first corner. A foundation has been built. I know the next president and the trustees will press vigorously for increased facilities at Van Ness and permanent facilities downtown. They will probably want to deal creatively with the unique educational composition of UDC, which affects the perception of this university's quality. UDC has a strong faculty. What is often misunderstood is that UDC is actually a state higher education system in miniature--a two-year community college, a four-year state college and a university. It must respond to that diversity. There may now be a need to consider these different roles in determining how we admit students and what services are provided, and how. Even a comprehensive institution must have its priorities. The next president must help identify them more sharply and interpret them to the broader community, particularly to those who are the principal employers of our students.

UDC is an investment that will pay off in the future by reducing unemployment and meeting the rising demand locally for a highly skilled, educated and technically competent work force. It will pay off in terms of a more stable community, populated by productive men and women with a stake in its future.

The first stage of developing a comprehensive public university for the nation's capital is concluded. I leave UDC this academic year with deep gratitude for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have helped shape its beginning.